Since the Parkland, Florida mass shooting almost two weeks ago, the gun debate has reignited. Of course, the debate never really goes away. For long stretches, though, it seems as if it is placed on the backburner until tragedy strikes again.
In the wake of the February 14th massacre, which took the lives of seventeen precious, innocent individuals, we’re left with numerous questions. Why didn’t the FBI follow-up on tips? Why didn’t Broward County law enforcement, who had visited Cruz’s house nearly forty times, consider him a real danger to the community? Shouldn’t there be armed guards on school campuses? What about arming teachers?
These are all important discussions to have.
A question that many seem to be asking, and rightly so, is how did someone with Nikolas Cruz’s mental health obtain a firearm? It is clear that the shooter struggled with mental fitness. He had attempted suicide in the past and also took medication for depression. But, did that mean he was going to be a school shooter? Those factors by themselves don’t indicate a desire to hurt another individual.
Whether we agree with it or not, there is a stigma against mental illness in this country. It is talked of quietly in private and tiptoed around in public. It’s an uncomfortable subject matter. You can’t look at someone in passing and diagnosis them with mental problems like you can assess someone’s physical capacity and the movement of their limbs.
It is much more complex.
That’s why the results from this new USA Today/Suffolk University poll bring about more questions than answers.
The USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll of 1,000 registered voters nationwide, taken Tuesday through Saturday, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
On guns, a nation that is often divided on issues is remarkably united:
By almost 2-1, 61%-33%, they say tightening gun-control laws and background checks would prevent more mass shootings in the United States.
By more than 2-1, 63%-29%, they say semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, used by the Florida shooter, should be banned.
I think most people would agree that background checks are imperative. The real issue is the reporting done to the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System). The NICS failed to keep Devin Patrick Kelly, the shooter who killed twenty-six people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas last fall, from obtaining a firearm. However, he should have been barred from possession of a weapon due to his history of domestic violence, not to mention the actual death threats he had made over the years.
Banning AR-15s is another matter, entirely. Will all semi-automatics be targeted? Is the problem with AR-15s due to the fact that many falsely classify it as an ‘assault rifle’?
The last poll result is what really jumped out at me, though.
By more than 6-1, 76%-12%, they say people who have been treated for mental illness should be banned from owning a firearm.
Since when did being “treated for mental illness” automatically qualify someone as a threat? If that is the case, then millions of Americans are walking time-bombs. That person struggling with an eating disorder might pop off a few rounds into a crowded hotel lobby. That quiet guy down the street who struggles with anxiety? Watch your back as you walk your dog past his house. He may set his sight on you.
See how ridiculous this becomes?
According to the NAMI, the following are classified as mental illness:
Borderline personality disorder
Early psychosis and Psychosis
Posttraumatic stress disorder
If mental illness by itself, with no other qualifications, is reason enough to keep someone from obtaining a firearm, then I would be kept from purchasing one. As a mother who has struggled with postpartum depression off and on since the birth of my 19-month old son, wouldn’t I be considered a threat? After all, 76% of the people polled believe that individuals treated for mental illness shouldn’t exercise their right to bear arms.
I’ve been to counseling. Don’t let me buy that gun.
This is the problem with painting a broad brushstroke across an issue. The majority of people struggling with mental illness would never hurt another living soul. Most quietly deal with their inner turmoil. They don’t seek to assuage their pain by pointing the barrel of a gun at someone else.
Do some become violent? Yes. Are there very serious concerns associated with extreme mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar, or borderline personality disorder? Of course. But we can’t lump everyone together and place them in a category labeled: “the bad people whose brains don’t work properly and who can’t be trusted around firearms.”
Gun control is a multi-layered issue. It may feel good to make generalizations about other Americans due to the guns in their homes or the Zoloft in their medicine cabinets, but they don’t come close to addressing the root of the problem.
And look at that? We’re back to square one.
Follow Kimberly Ross on Twitter: @southernkeeks.